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Parks Title

Lesson Three: A Merchant Economy

Upon completing the lesson students will be able to: 

  • Analyze data to form a mental image about the people and businesses in a gold rush-era community.
  • Explain how the gold rush changed California's economy.

Time Required
1 hour class period

Materials Required
Articles from "Columbia Gazette"
"Gold Rush Prices" worksheet

1. Discuss with the students life in the mining camps. What are the characteristics of a mining town? Talk about housing (tent cities). Discuss the different cultural groups that were part of the mining camps, obstacles they faced, and their contributions.

2. Have students examine the excerpt from the 1855 "Columbia Gazette." What types of businesses were available to miners? What types of good did the merchants provide miners?

3. Assign the students the "Gold Rush Prices" worksheet. They can use newspaper food sections and catalogs, or a list of modern day prices you provide. This worksheet is designed to help students understand inflation of prices during the gold rush and the difficulty in obtaining supplies in the gold fields.

Variation: Ask the students, using a program like Microsoft Excel, to create a table for the gold rush prices and modern prices. Use the table to create graphs to use as price comparisons.

4. Review the "Gold Rush Prices" worksheet with the students. Ask the students why gold rush prices were so high? Explain inflation and high prices. Who do they think was making more money, the miners or merchants? Which one would they rather be?

5. Ask the class to list some things that made living in a mining camp different from the world we live in today.